To The Wallflowers

Book Review - In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts because we are in thrall to the extrovert ideal, the “omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight.” In the book she charts the rise of the extrovert ideal in America and how deeply it has come to permeate our culture, something that is not at all hard to believe or accept. She introduces a variety of anecdotes on interaction and preferences, and cites interesting scientific studies on temperament and development. For example, she notes Hans Eysenck’s finding that introverts are more aroused by sensory stimuli, and that over-arousal interferes with attention and short-term memory. Wound together, Cain highlights the powers of the quiet individual and suggests ways for introverts to assert their power and for extroverts to accommodate it.

As one reviewer put it, Quiet was “ploddingly earnest” (NYTimes). It was also overly broad in terms of how extroversion and introversion are defined. However, there were some interesting bits, especially for those not intimately familiar with psychology and the “biology of the self.” The Orchid Hypothesis, for example, and the connection between introversion, sensitivity, and empathy are important yet often overlooked considerations in pedagogy.

The end of the book reads like a sentimental rallying cry to the wallflowers of the world: “Love is essential; gregariousness is optional. Cherish your nearest and dearest . . . and don’t worry about socializing with everyone else.” In the epigraph to this impassioned final chapter, Cain quotes Anaïs Nin: “Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for the center. So we lost our center and have to find it again.” That quest is a noble one, and if nothing else, perhaps this book will serve as the impetus to embark on it.